Germany’s CO2 emissions decrease for the first time in 3 years

Germany is only barely approaching its self-defined target to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2020. [blackpictures/Flickr]

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks spoke of a trend reversal, as overall greenhouse gas emissions were observed decreasing again for the first time in 3 years. But in the agriculture and transport sectors, the trend is quite the opposite. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In 2014, CO2 pollution dropped by around 41 million tonnes, a 4.3% reduction compared to 2013, according to an analysis by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) from Tuesday (31 March).

“The trend is finally going in the right direction,” explained Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks.

In total, the year’s greenhouse gas emissions from households, industry, transportation, agriculture and the energy sector added up to 912 million tonnes – the lowest level since 2010. This amounts to a reduction of 27% compared to the international baseline year 1990.

But the German government is only barely approaching its self-defined target to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2020.

Still, the Federal Republic is ahead of the EU average in this regard. The bloc is aiming for only a 20% decrease by 2020, and then 40% by 2030.

According to the UBA, the “trend reversal” can likely be attributed to an extraordinarily mild winter. Because temperatures were not as low, less fossil fuels were burned for heating.

The decrease was particularly significant for natural gas and hard coal. Natural gas emissions fell by about 12.9%, and hard coal by 8.2%.

Lignite-fueled power, on the other hand, only saw a 2.2% reduction in CO2.

Meanwhile, nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from the agriculture sector increased. This can be attributed to more widespread use of mineral fertilisation.

“Continuously rising greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and especially from the transportation sector clearly indicate existing deficits,” said UBA chief Maria Krautzberger. “Here, we have an additional need for action,” she pointed out. Emissions from transportation increased by more than 3%.

Lignite-based energy also poses a challenge to climate protection. This source, alone, generated 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, despite continuous growth in the share of renewables.

“The data shows a need for action. It is better to introduce a gradual and socially-compatible structural change now, rather than risking sudden implications later,” said Environment Minister Hendricks.

Because Germany is still likely to miss its 40% target by 2020, Hendricks drafted a “climate protection action plan”, a core component of which is to scale down emissions from power plants.

Economic Affairs and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel drafted a proposal to initiate a penalty payment when a certain emissions level is exceeded.

However, the Social Democrat faces much opposition to the plan, particularly from Germany’s eastern states who are highly dependent on lignite.

Climate protection can only be executed successfully if actions are globally coordinated, explained Brandenburg Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke.

“But a model that eliminates many thousands of jobs in Germany will not be copied internationally,” Woidke said.

To cut CO2 emissions from around 500 fossil fuel-based power plants by an additional 22 million tonnes, Gabriel’s plan would require operators of plants older than 20 years to pay a climate fee.

By 2030, the EU climate and energy framework has pledged:

  • A 40% greenhouse gas reduction target that is binding at nation state level and may not be met by carbon offsets
  • The use of carbon offsets to meet further emissions reduction commitments made in international climate talks
  • A 27% renewable energy target that is binding at an aggregate European level but voluntary for individual member states
  • No consideration of any new energy efficiency target until after a June 2014 review of the Energy Efficiency Directive
  • Non-binding shale gas recommendations which could be made binding after a review in 2015
  • A market reserve facility for the Emissions Trading System, with the power to withhold or release up to 100 million allowances
  • An end to the Fuel Quality Directive, which mandates reductions in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels, by 2020

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